I was reminded in an email thread discussing Jan Heine's recent crash in Japan about the frequently inappropriate use of the word "accident" to describe most crashes where motor vehicles hit cyclists and pedestrians (and probably fixed objects and other motor vehicles). Lynne Cooney wrote:
Again, this was not an accident, it was a negligent driver. Continuing to call these crashes "accidents" implies that they are unavoidable.Here's the beginning of the entry for "accident" on Wikipedia (emphasis mine):
An accident is an undesirable incidental and unplanned event that could have been prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its occurrence. Most scientists who study unintentional injury avoid using the term "accident" and focus on factors that increase risk of severe injury and that reduce injury incidence and severity (Robertson, 2015).Lynne also provided me a link to a recent opinion piece in Wired, which I think is worthwhile reading.
The opportunity exists for a small amount of advocacy. Anytime you see the word "accident" incorrectly used in a report about a motor vehicle crash, here are a few things you can do to draw attention to the incorrect usage, yet not take much of your time:
- If the website provides for comments, add a comment to the article.
- If contact information for the author is available, tweet, post, or send an email.
- If there is a public editor or ombudsman (for instance, the NY Times has a public editor), send that person an email.
Cook up a short, polite form letter (extremely short if you are a Twitter-holic) and save it on your computer. Whenever you see the word "accident" used inappropriately to describe crashes involving motor vehicles, paste your form letter into your email/tweet/comment. On social media, include the hashtag #CrashNotAccident. Maybe reporters and news outlets will start to get the message and change their usage.
Do you already do this? Let me know in the comments. If you have a boilerplate response you use, feel free to include that as well.